History of the

Trucking Industry

The trucking industry has a long history that has shaped the economy of the United States. 

Learn more about how truck driving has evolved: 

Before Truck Driving

Before trucks, freight was moved by train or horse-drawn vehicles. While trains were highly efficient at moving large amounts of freight, they could only deliver to metropolitan areas. Horse-drawn wagons would then distribute the cargo. While there were a few trucks that existed at the time, they were mostly a novelty. These vehicles were basically motorized wagons with solid rubber tires which made any trip rough and slow. The use of electric engines limited their range and functionality and a lack of paved roads limited trucks to mostly shorter urban routes.

The Early Era of Trucking

It wasn’t until 1910 that technology began to develop. This gave rise to the trucking industry. The advent of gasoline-powered internal combustion engines, improvements to transmissions, the change to gear drives from chain drives, and the development of tractors/semi-trailer combinations helped spur the rise in popularity of shipping by truck.

 In 1912, trucks became equipped with running lights, allowing them to be driven at night. This made it possible to travel during any time of the day, which made motorized trucks more practical. As a result, the railroads began to lose business to trucking companies. However, trucks were still not used extensively until the military started using them during World War I.

During World War I, railroads had become increasingly congested and the US needed alternative forms of transporting goods. The advent of pneumatic (inflated) tires allowed trucks to carry heavier loads and travel at higher speeds. Truck manufacturers began to emerge to meet the increasing demand. By 1920 there were over one million trucks on American roads. The 1920s also saw advancements in rural roads, the introduction of the diesel engine, power-assisted brakes and steering, and much more.

Trucking Industry Regulations

With these advancements came new regulations. By 1933, all states had some form of truck weight regulation. It was also during this year that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” formed the American Trucking Associations (ATA). This was accomplished by merging the American Highway Freight Association and the Federated Trucking Associations of America. This legislation also adopted a code of fair competition. In 1935, Congress passed the Motor Carrier Act, which replaced this code and gave authorization over the trucking industry to the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC).

Interstate Transport

In 1941, President Roosevelt appointed a special committee to explore the idea of a national highway system. Progress on this halted because of the start of World War II. It wasn’t until 1954 that Dwight D. Eisenhower renewed the plan. This ignited a feud between railroad, truck, tire, oil, and farm groups over who would pay for the new highways and how. Finally, the Federal-Aid Highway Act authorized the construction of the Interstate Highway system in 1956. During this time a new type of intermodal shipping container was pioneered. This allowed for easier transfer of cargo between ships, trains, and trucks. As a result, the trucking industry really began to flourish.

Trucking During the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s

The 1960s and 1970s saw a dramatic rise in popularity and romanticism of truck drivers. Movies, television, and music depicted them as modern-day outlaws. Truck drivers participated in widespread strikes in 1973 and 1979 over the rising cost of fuel. They created a community where they helped each other by communicating using CB radios.

By the 1980s national attention towards trucking had waned and with the advent of the cell phone, the CB culture largely disappeared. With the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, the trucking industry was partially deregulated, allowing for an increase in the number of trucking companies in operation. While this resulted in lower pay for most drivers as the industry largely de-unionized, it also increased competition and reduced costs to consumers. The Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 finally established a federal minimum for truck weight limits. This was important because this act standardized truck size and weight limits across the entire nation. 

Modern Day Trucking

Today the trucking industry is stronger than ever. It collects on average $650 billion in revenue each year and there are about 5.6 million registered semi-trucks in the United States. This number continues to grow as demand increases, resulting in a driver shortage.

Become a Truck Driver With DSW

If you would like to learn more about the trucking industry and becoming a truck driver, dispatcher, or starting a career in the exciting field of transportation, DSW can help. We have openings for all levels of drivers. With competitive pay, tuition reimbursement, and medical and dental benefits, we’ve got you covered.

Call us today for more information regarding a career in the trucking industry.
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